The media are currently making considerable hay with the idea that UK politics as we know it has broken down for ever. On the back of some local elections and a couple of polls we are told that UKIP are the new boys in town and that within a matter of months baguettes and paella will be all but outlawed in mainland Britain.
Whether these dystopian extrapolations of polling data come to pass or not only time will tell. My guess is that it is a bit of a blip and that Farage and co have probably already peaked and that increased scrutiny and the grasshopper of media attention will eventually do for them. However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth checking them out and seeing what they might offer if they ever get near to the levers of power.
The party has really stood on two main policy platforms so far. (1) get out of Europe and (2) reduce immigration. Both of these policies have considerable implications for careers, the first because it has the potentially to dramatically change the political economy of the country and the second because UK plc has relied on immigration to compensate for poorly managed skills policies for a long time. I heard Mike Campbell talking to the Spectator conference that I attended a couple of weeks ago. He said that while he was on the Home Office’s advisory committee on skilled immigration he had seen a list of skills regularly produced to aid decision making about what immigrants to let in. What he had been unable to do was to get BIS to engage with this list of national skills needs and use it to drive education and training policy. Clearly this kind of disconnect needs to be addressed, but unless it is addressed, simply cutting off skilled immigration is likely to leave some big gaps in the economy.
However, once we move beyond UKIPs headline issues what else is there. The UKIP website has a section called What we stand for this covers self-government (AKA get out of Europe), the economy (AKA get out of Europe and cut public services), protect our borders (AKA cut immigration), crime (AKA tough on crime, nothing about the causes of crime), care and support for all (a rag bag of ideas on the public sector) and our way of life (AKA no to multi-culturalism, yes to smoking in doors, yes to hunting). All in all a slightly weird set of platforms with nothing very substantial to say about education or employment.
There are a few promises that do relate to education and employment policy. These are:
- Give parents school vouchers to allow them to choose their children’s schools.
- Support grammar schools and vocational education.
- End the 50% university target for school leavers , scrap tuition fees and reintroduce student grants.
Which are interesting. The first one is presumably a way to direct state subsidy to private schools. The second is familiar Tory ground, but the third one seems to head off in a different direction, perhaps suggesting the need for a more elite but smaller university system.
The recent local election manifesto throws a little more light on some of this with the education policy set out as follows
Build more grammar schools, reinstate the student grant and educational maintenance allowance, encourage vocational apprenticeships, give parents the right to choose where their children go to school, protect rural schools, more support for home schooling and introduce elected county education boards.
Some of which I can agree with, whilst other bits look set to increase the divisive culture of selection that the last couple of governments have presided over. More interestingly the party also promises to devolve budgets to communities and support the development of greater amounts of youth services. However, the cuts to Connexions are not acknowledged.
If you go back to the 2010 election manifesto you can get some more detail still, although as the site points out, this is not necessarily current policy. This platform makes the parties position much clearer. It is about cutting public spending (although not in the areas of defence or nuclear power), reducing employment protection, developing some big public investment programmes to stimulate job creation, privatising education through a voucher scheme, focusing education on the “three Rs”, educational selection, an ominous commitment to “proper discipline” in schools, moving kids with disabilities out of the mainstream school system, and strengthening entry to employment programmes whilst increasing benefit conditionality.
There is a lot more that you could say, but you probably get the flavour of it from this. In essence UKIP is a standard right wing party with a few oddball populist policies that give it its own unique brand. Because of its newness there are some serious inconsistencies that would need to be worked through if it were ever to operationalise its policy platform. However, this kind of policy inconsistency is not uncommon (even for parties in government).
UKIP are rather a long way from getting my vote. However, I can see that they might be able to appeal to a particular constituency. If they manage to do this I would have thought that it leaves the Tories high and dry. My guess is that they will fail in this, but my worry is that they will drag the centre of gravity of British politics further to the right as they thrash around on the edges.
I’m off to stock up on Merlot and sauerkraut.
You have been warned.